Photos show just how dramatically less glamorous flying economy is today compared to the golden age of aviation

Andre Carrara/Condé Nast via Getty ImagesModels pose in front of a TWA Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
  • The advent of commercial air travel has changed the way humanity interacts.
  • The latest passengers figures released by IATA show that a whopping 4.1 billion people around the world took to the skies in 2017, up 7.3% over the previous year.
  • The arrival of jet-powered passenger flight in the mid-1950s really kicked things into the high gear.
  • As the number of passenger skyrocket, so has the public’s complaints about the shortcomings of modern air travel.
  • Here’s a look a how flying in economy compares with the past.

Over the past century, the advent of air travel has changed the way humanity interacts. It’s broken down borders and has effectively made the world a smaller place.

The growth of airline travel in recent years has been particularly impressive.

“In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months,” Alexandre de Juniac, the International Air Transport Association’s director general and CEO, said in a statement. “In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months.”

“Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure and education. Aviation is the business of freedom,” the former CEO of Air France went on to say.

Read more: The 20 biggest airlines in the world, ranked.

The latest passengers figures released by IATA show that a whopping 4.1 billion people around the world took to the skies in 2017, up 7.3% over the previous year.

The arrival of jet-powered passenger flight in the mid-1950s really kicked things into the high gear.

As passenger figures skyrocket, so has the number of gripes about the shortcomings of modern air travel. In fact, many reminiscences about the “good old days” of the early era of jet air travel.

So, we here at Business Insider decided to take a closer look at how flying in the economy cabin compares to the past:


In 1952, British Overseas Airline Corporation, a predecessor of British Airways, launched the era of jet-powered passenger flight with the De Havilland Comet.

PA Images via Getty ImagesThe world’s first regular jetliner service was opened when the 36 seater de Havilland Comet G-ALYP of British Overseas Airways took off from London Airport on the inaugural passenger carrying flight to Johannesburg, South Africa

However, it was the Boeing 707 and…


… Douglas DC-8 became the early workhorses in the jet era.


The Boeing 707’s fuselage is 148 inches wide and its economy cabin is configured with six seats per row. The DC-8 has a 147-inch wide fuselage.

Getty/Bettmann / Contributor

The 707 shares its cabin layout with the 727 and…


… the 737.

Lufthansa

Incredibly, Boeing has not changed the fuselage width of its narrow-body airliners. The modern Boeing 737 Max has the same 148-inch width six seats per row configuration.

Southwest Airlines

The arrival of the Boeing 747 in the early 1970s, ushered in the era of the wide-bodies along with…


… the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, and…

Getty/Christopher Deahr / Contributor

… the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.


The Boeing 747 dramatically lowered unit costs for airlines, making flying more affordable than ever. In effect democratizing air travel for the masses.


The widebodies delivered an economy-class experience, unlike anything that had come before.

Fox Photos/Getty Images

These days, wide-body economy cabins remain big and roomy like on this Etihad Airbus A380.

Hollis Johnson

However, one major difference is that legroom is no longer as plentiful as before.


And then there are the seats. The big comfy chairs of the past have been replaced by slimline seats.

Fox Photos/Getty Images

These seats are lightweight and stylish.

Southwest Airlines

But, they are also short on padding and much less comfortable.

United Media

On the bright side, air travel is now exponentially cheaper than before, especially with the growing popularity of low-cost and ultra-low-cost airlines.

Spirit

Unfortunately, airlines have also gone to an a la carte pricing strategy that now charges extra thing like seat selection and checked bags. As a result, the overhead bins are now packed.


In-flight entertainment has come a long way since this experimental Pan Am system from 1965.

Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images

These days more airlines either offer free-streaming entertainment options or personal in-flight entertainment systems.

Delta

Flights attendants are also armed with new tech like smartphones that can provide valuable connection information for travellers.

United Airlines

Back in the day, flying was a more formal affair. These days, we take it a lot more casually.


Let’s talk about food. During the golden age of air travel, in-flight meals were the norm.

Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Today, in-flight meals are usually reserved for international long haul flights.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

For the most part, in-flight dining in economy class means a soda and a snack.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Finally, there’s the airport experience. With far fewer people flying, airport crowding was less of an issue.

Getty/Bettmann / Contributor

That’s a far cry from the recreational queuing we partake in every time was fly.

Business Insider

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.